On February 1, we celebrate the Feast of St. Brigid of Kildare. St. Brigid is not only one of the three patron saints of Ireland, she is also the patron saint of dairy farmers. While many historical and modern writers have written accounts about her life, it is hard to get a full picture of her story. Many of the ancient accounts of her life differ in their stories but there are some points that they all agree on. She was born around 451AD, during the end of St. Patrick’s life. Her father was a pagan chiefton and her Christian mother was a slave. This meant that Brigid was born into slavery. Accounts claim that Brigid’s mother was sold when she was pregnant, but her father eventually called Brigid back to his care.
There are many stories of the virtues she showed throughout her childhood and the miracles worked through her generosity. She served the poor and sick, which often including giving away her father’s wealth to others in need. This enraged her father, especially since Brigid was a servant and not a full member of the family. There are several accounts of the circumstances that led Brigid’s father to granted her freedom, but we know he did so because of his anger at her generosity with his wealth.
With her freedom, Brigid joined a convent of St. Macaille along with seven other consecrated women. At this time, there was no organized monastic life for women in Ireland. She went on to established many convents throughout Ireland, including the famous monastery of Kildare. Brigid is credited as the first woman to establish organized communal religious life for women in Ireland. She inspired women to religious life through her example and continued to offer her life in service to the poor and sick. She is a Patron Saint of Ireland because the convents she established are considered to be a large factor in the later conversion of the country from paganism to Christianity. St. Brigid died from natural causes around 525AD.
But, why is Brigid considered the patron saint of dairy farmers? One account says this is because Brigid’s mother was in charge of her master’s dairy. Brigid helped her mother in this work and the dairy prospered under her. However, Brigid gave away the produce to the poor, sick, and needy. Another account explains that early monastic life in Ireland involved prayer but also manual labor. One of the parts of this labor was dairy farming. All the accounts agree that throughout her life Brigid was always generous with her dairy, giving away the milk, butter, and cream to those in need.
Saint Brigid continues to serves an example to us of generosity. She understood from a young age that everything we have is a gift from the Lord. May we follow her example of generosity and trust in the Lord. St. Brigid, pray for us!
– Annie Huntington is the Project Coordinator for Catholic Rural Life.